As financial planning and analysis professionals increasingly shift their attention from everyday budgeting and forecasting to more strategic duties, the need to build strong business partnerships within the organization is growing. Small wonder, then, that at a recent gathering of FP&A professionals in New York City, the number one topic was how to better collaborate with business partners.
The practitioners met January 20 at the AFP FP&A Roundtable. Sponsored by Peloton, the roundtable gathered senior FP&A professionals from across industries. According to Philip Peck, VP of Financial Transformation at Peloton, it’s of paramount importance for FP&A professionals to move outside their traditional role. “Given their deep understanding around the financials of the organization, FP&A professionals can provide the knowledge and expertise to help business stakeholders connect the dots and better understand how operational activity and key decisions impacts results,” he said.
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Business partnering is not easy to do, Peck added. “It requires a unique set of skills and competencies,” he said.
Here are eight ways FP&A professionals can build strong partnerships:
Integrate tactical and strategic processes. One practitioner at the roundtable explained how said she merged the day-to-day work with the strategic partnering to make sure both become an ongoing part of the relationship with business units. “We work as closely with the business units to close the books as we do on strategic projects,” she said.
Change the “budget guy” or “FP&A police” perception. A lot has to do with changing managers’ perception of what FP&A is all about, according to Peck. That means FP&A needs to bring value to the operations, not just say no to investment requests.
Learn the business. It’s very important to build FP&A’s credibility by showing the business leaders that FP&A understands the business, according to the CFO of a not-for-profit organization. “Make sure you understand the business. It’s not just about numbers.”
Separate budget variance analysis from FP&A. At one global financial institution, the monthly task of comparing budget to actuals has been shifted to accounting, freeing up more FP&A time to focus on building the partnership with the business. “Accounting should be able to speak to the business and handle the first line of questions,” said the CFO above. Granted, a lot depends on how the company is structured, another participant noted. Her company runs an SSC model, where accounting staff has little understanding of how the budget has been put together.
Share the story. Short of spinning off some of the more transactional activities, one practitioner suggested sharing the budget story with accounting and setting up one monthly meeting that includes everyone—FP&A, accounting, business leaders and management—to hear and discuss the budget numbers. “That saves a lot of time on multiple meetings,” she said.
Be consistent and over-deliver. “Consistency in delivering the message and delivering results is very important,” said one FP&A attendee. Added another practitioner, just delivering on promises may not be enough. “It’s also important to consistently over-deliver, especially on the first time around.” He noted that if business managers are impressed with the value they get they’re more likely to ask for FP&A help in the future.
Actively seek partnering opportunities. According to Peck, FP&A needs to put itself in the business leaders’ shoes by anticipating their needs and seeking ways to add value.
Evangelize the profession. Finally, a good way of building FP&A credibility with business partners is to educate them on what FP&A does and how it can help them improve their own performance. One FP&A professional said she went on a roadshow, meeting with business leaders within her organization to outline the role of FP&A and how it can drive results. “Since then people have come to us,” she said. “It helped change the culture.”